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The Future of International Surrogacy

As surrogacy becomes a more familiar route to parenthood, for both same-sex couples and infertile heterosexual intended parents, surrogacy industry expert Sam Everingham looks at what drives parents to engage overseas, assesses the Thailand shutdown in 2014, and considers future projections.

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International Surrogacy

As surrogacy becomes a more familiar route to parenthood, for both same-sex couples and infertile heterosexual intended parents, surrogacy industry expert Sam Everingham looks at what drives parents to engage overseas, assesses the Thailand shutdown in 2014, and considers future projections.

The USA

Some US states (California and Minnesota to name just two) have been offering legal surrogacy for up to 30 years and have some of the best procedures and protections in place for both surrogates and parents. Choosing an experienced, trustworthy US surrogacy pathway has been the gold standard for those who can afford it, and brings the added bonus of US citizenship for any child born there. Unfortunately, however, many UK-intended parents simply cannot afford US legal, medical and insurance costs.

Such cost pressures along with difficulty locating a reliable surrogate at home have pushed many UK intended parents to engage in more affordable surrogacy in Thailand, India, Ukraine, Georgia and even Greek Cyprus, Nepal and Mexico.

Of these alternatives, India has perhaps the highest level of medical expertise, competition and sound surrogacy processes. Indian medical specialists all speak English – many were trained in the UK medical system.

India – Better to be Irish

For UK citizens engaging in surrogacy in India, at least one parent must remain around four months in India post-birth. However, for many other nationalities, including the Irish, their government will rapidly grant newborns travel documents allowing safe passage to their parents’ home country.

John and Caitriona are an Irish couple from County Louth who embarked on Indian surrogacy in January 2013 after over four years of failed IVF attempts on home shores. Both in their mid-forties, their local infertility support organisation had warned them that surrogacy “was not for the faint-hearted” but added that the alternative, adoption, was not only incredibly stressful but increasingly difficult to achieve.

The pair researched options in both India and Ukraine, speaking to clients of various clinics. “For me,” says John, “the most nerve-wracking part of the process was deciding to proceed – in effect placing trust and hard-earned savings in the hands of a foreign clinic.”

Ultimately, John and Caitriona settled on a New Delhi agency. “Talking to others who had been on the journey already was invaluable. We put a hefty down-payment on a ‘multi-attempt package’ before flying to India in September 2013 to meet with the surrogate we had been matched with.

“On the first embryo transfer, our surrogate fell pregnant. We could not believe our good fortune. And nine months on, we were parents to baby Luke.”

The Irish government granted Luke an Emergency Travel Certificate, allowing him to travel internationally. Within two weeks of arriving in New Delhi, John, Caitriona and their 14-day-old baby were boarding the aeroplane bound for Dublin.

However, given India does not grant citizenship to children born to foreigners via surrogacy, young Luke remains in legal limbo, without citizenship of any country.

Luckily, in the absence of any relevant Irish laws, the Department of Foreign Affairs have legal guidelines in place. Baby Luke will get citizenship, but this requires an application for a Declaration of Parentage in the Circuit Court, a lengthy and expensive process. Still, to Luke’s parents this is a small price to pay for the child they are raising.

So when the Irish Parliament made a call for submissions to assist it in drafting new laws in September 2013, John was galvanised to tell his story, and encouraged others to do the same.

“I now volunteer with Ireland’s National Infertility Support and Information Group, assisting other parents in navigating such journeys. I am one of many parents and surrogates who will be sharing their stories at FTS London conference on March 21.”

Thailand – What went wrong?

Last year, the Baby Gammy scandal on top of the Thai military’s crackdown on compensated surrogacy shone the media spotlight on surrogacy as a means to family formation. The Thai authorities were furious that compensated surrogacy had thrived under their watch, mainly because it went against not just medical council guidelines but more importantly, Thai cultural norms.

Thai surrogacy agency staff fled, terrified of reprisals by the military government. Warrants were issued for the arrest of Dr Pisit, Thailand’s most popular IVF physician amongst foreigners. Intended parents with pregnant Thai surrogates were left worried to distraction – for the safety of their surrogates and their unborn children. Some took leave from work and flew to Thailand to reassure their surrogate they would be looked after.

Major media agencies around the world went to extreme lengths to gain access to intended parents struggling to get their long-awaited infants home, and parents stuck in Bangkok with newborns ended up holed up in hotel rooms too terrified to venture out.

Some parents from European countries resorted to temporarily marrying their Thai surrogate in order to circumvent their own country’s refusal to provide citizenship for their newborns.

Families Through Surrogacy’s positioning as a non-profit consumer organisation advocating best practice meant we were called on dozens of times by international media for comment on the implications of this mess. Suddenly the organisation found itself the conduit between intended parents, government and media.

What no media understood or reported on was how a major industry had been able to develop without Thai government approval. Not one Thai IVF doctor had talked publicly about surrogacy. Therefore, how had thousands of intended parents found their way to Thailand with no paid advertising of the services available? The answer lay in social media – consumers taking information-seeking and decision-making to a grassroots level – connecting with intended parents online via Facebook groups and blogs, many of them run by Thai agents and surrogacy clinics.

The key desire is for word-of-mouth recommendation – what lawyer is good in this area and doesn’t overcharge? How do I find an egg donor? What guarantees are there medically?

In the fall-out, most of these agents and surrogacy agencies turned their backs on Thailand, asking clients to start again in new destinations such as Mexico and Nepal.

Last year’s dramas highlight not only the risks hopeful parents take in engaging in surrogacy in unregulated markets, but the speed at which new options appear when another closes down.

The Nepalese government quietly passed surrogacy legislation to give legal recognition of intended parents – whether gay or heterosexual. Already three operators have on-the ground staff and support services in the Nepalese capital.

Mexico

Informed local sources say Mexico will soon be ‘like Thailand’ because unethical operators have moved in, introducing illegal practices to cope with rising demand.

Mexican Congresswoman Liliana Madrigal has proposed changes to make surrogacy available only to residents of the single Mexican state which allows it. Her bill also proposes restricting availability to heterosexual couples and outlawing surrogacy contracts. Changes in Mexico may be applied as early as February 2015, potentially blocking new international clients from engaging in Mexico.

Surrogacy agencies in Mexico remain philosophical though most appreciate they may only have a limited window of opportunity to assist international intended parents. Even if Tabasco law changes, international precedent strongly suggests that existing surrogacy contracts will be honoured. Changes cannot be retrospective without risking the future of many unborn children.

The future

To those caught up in the confusion, the year was stressful, but emphasised the importance of education, communication and connection in a largely unregulated area. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) are in the early stages of planning an advice campaign aimed at Brits considering a surrogacy arrangement overseas.

Certainly one outcome of recent events has been greater enthusiasm amongst intended parents to locate a surrogate at home, even if that means travelling to Greece or elsewhere in Europe for the IVF component to save on costs.

Entrepreneurial agencies are already planning new operations in countries with willing governments, including Greek Cyprus, Greece and Cambodia.

Meanwhile, the consumer non-profit Families Through Surrogacy has grown from nothing to over a thousand members in the space of a year. They held their first UK/EU conference in March 2014 with little PR budget, yet the conference committee were taken aback at the numbers who attended – surrogates, parents, children through surrogacy and hopeful parents from around the UK and mainland Europe.

Attendee feedback showed the popularity was due to the focus on consumers sharing their own journeys as surrogates or intended parents. Those considering something as significant as surrogacy take so much out of getting to know other singles and couples who have gone before them.

Our thanks go to Sam Everingham for this piece. For more information on Families Through Surrogacy visit http://goo.gl/WGAMoc

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Families Through Surrogacy – The Ukraine Solution

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Families Through Surrogacy

As Families Through Surrogacy’s consumer-led seminar series returns to the UK in October, SAM EVERINGHAM catches up with Stacy Owen, one of a growing number of UK citizens engaging in Ukraine for surrogacy.

Stacy and her Morrocan-born husband Simo live in Sutton, Surrey. Stacy was 41 when she turned to surrogacy after enduring twelve years of infertility grief and loss. Simo, an electrical tester, was ten years younger. None of Stacy’s ten pregnancies had lasted more than nine weeks and her doctors could only say the problem was ‘immune issues’. Surrogacy was the only option left.

Stacy is frank about her needs. “I looked into the UK surrogacy process (but) I didn’t want to have to ….. form a relationship and take the risk (with British law) of not being able to have our baby(s) should the surrogate change her mind.  I wanted it to be a business transaction….. I didn’t want to be forced to be involved with the surrogate, although I remain in contact to this day.”

With US surrogacy being too pricey, Stacy discovered Ukraine – one of the few countries which provide for legal parentage for foreigners using surrogacy.  One clinic offered an all-inclusive package for €30,000 including IVF and birth costs, egg donor if required, medications, legals, surrogate expenses, compensation as well as their own food and accommodation. She Skyped with the clinic a few times and they signed up in April 2017.

Stacy stimulated for one cycle herself and found the hormonal effects a challenge. Their first transfer took but failed at six weeks. Their ‘package’ included an egg donor, who they had to choose online as a backup. The 21-year-old they chose produced enough eggs to create six high quality embryos.

Their clinic substituted a new surrogate. Six weeks post transfer Stacy’s email pinged with the first scan. An ultrasound had arrived clearly showing two healthy embryo sacs. “It was amazing to receive”, Stacy remembers. “We were so excited and over the moon that we had twins”.

Stacey & Owen

Nonetheless, Stacy only told her parents and one friend.  “I didn’t want all the questions and enquiries – the process was a very private one … we had too many past losses to feel comfortable before they were born”

Their clinic had a policy of not introducing intended parents to their surrogate until the end of the first trimester, given pregnancies can often fail prior. So Stacy and Simo had their first face to face contact with their surrogate via Skype at 16 weeks. Until this point letters were exchanged.

Stacy flew to Ukraine to meet her surrogate for the 26-week scan as well as other English couples.

“Legal stuff was the one thing we didn’t know about, we thought the clinic handled all of it’ Stacy confesses. She had assumed the exit process might take three weeks. When they discovered other UK couples have had to stay in Ukraine between 5 and 7 months post-birth, Stacy felt ill. “Oh my god, what have we done”.

But having built a career in educational governance, Stacy was used to project planning and paperwork. So by the time they travelled to Kiev at 37 weeks gestation she had almost two lever arch files in preparation for the application for British Passports and Parental Orders.

The Owens had purchased an economy surrogacy package which gave them a room in a shared villa outside Kiev. It was like a ‘Baby Club’ boarding house, Stacy recalls, full of expectant parents – Chinese, Romanian, Spanish, Belgian. There was no air-conditioning – it was sweltering.

“I cried for two days when I first arrived – it seemed in the middle of nowhere and the thought of living here alone when my husband left was daunting” Stacy admits. However, the experience and meeting parents from around the world was ‘a wonderful one’.

Against all odds, their twins were not premature and Ukraine hospitals do not induce. To their surprise, they had 16 days to kill until the birth at almost 40 weeks.
Their package meant delivery in a cheaper city four hours south of Kiev. They arrived by train. Again their clinic provided transport, interpreters an apartment as well as baby formula, baby clothes, nappies and money for food. When Aleah & Eli were born, strict hospital protocols meant they could visit for an hour daily until discharge on day seven.

Stacy was so organised that she met the UK’s arduous passport paperwork requirements on the first attempt. So ten weeks post birth this family of four was winging it back home to Surrey. The Owens had a family building story they would never forget.

Stacy is just one parent who will share her surrogacy advice amongst those who have engaged in the US, Canada, Ukraine or UK at FTS seminar series next month in Dublin (23 Oct), Edinburgh (25 Oct) and London (27 Oct). These will include advice and short talks from surrogates, surrogacy professionals and legal experts. Details at http://www.familiesthrusurrogacy.com/uk-ireland-oct-seminar-series/

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Surrogacy in the UK

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Surrogacy In The UK

With all the recent Newspaper headlines about celebrity couples using surrogacy as a way of creating or extending their families, it is perhaps unsurprising that the number of couples exploring surrogacy as an option in the UK is on the increase. However, it is important for those considering surrogacy to remember that many of these Newspaper headlines are in respect of couples and arrangements which take place abroad, and, as such, do not comply with the law in the UK. Couples should be very wary of using these celebrity couples as a template for their own surrogacy plans.

No matter what the genetic make-up of a child, UK law regards the woman who carries and gives birth to the child as the legal mother. If she is married at the time of insemination or implantation of an embryo, UK law regards her husband as the legal father – unless it can be shown that he did not consent to the procedure.

This is the case wherever the surrogacy arrangement takes place ie. even if the surrogate mother is a foreign national residing abroad and even if the surrogate mother’s own home country regards the commissioning couple as the parents and provides documentation to this effect.

UK law does provide a procedure by which the commissioning couple can then acquire full parental rights for the child born. This necessitates an application to the UK courts for a Parental Order. If made, the Parental Order extinguishes the parental rights of the surrogate (and her husband if necessary) and vests all legal parentage in the commissioning couple. The surrogate mother and the legal father must give full and free consent for the Parental Order to be made. Such consent cannot be given before the child is six weeks old and the application must be made to the Court before the child is six months old.

Surrogacy contracts in the UK are illegal and are unenforceable. Surrogacy arrangements, however, are legal provided strict criteria are complied with. These criteria are designed to protect the altruistic nature of surrogacy and prevent commercial surrogacy taking place in the UK. It is very easy to unwittingly fall foul of these criteria and find yourself in circumstances where there is then doubt as to whether the Court can make a Parental Order. This leaves the intended parents without legal parentage for their child and facing the prospect of alternative legal structures to protect their family eg. adoption – which was never intended for use by parents in these circumstances and thus brings with it complications and unintended consequences.

Parliament has recently acknowledged that the law relating to surrogacy needs to change in the UK. This has been prompted as a result of UK law having been found incompatible with EU law and to be discriminatory. It is envisaged within the next two years a Law Commission Report will make recommendations as to change which will bring surrogacy law up to date with social change, although there is still a strong sense that the altruistic nature of surrogacy should be retained as opposed to there being commercial contracts introduced. In this area of assisted reproduction, it is really important that intended parents take proper legal advice both before and after their child is born as in every case there is a legal process that must be complied with if legal parentage of the child is as intended.

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Liz Bottrill is a Partner in the Family Law Team at Laytons Solicitors with over 25 years’ experience in the field. She has a particular interest and expertise in the law relating to children and fertility. www.laytons.com

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Surrogates – Extraordinary Generosity Provides Family to Hundreds

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Hannah Bailey

There have been huge changes in surrogacy availability in recent years. UK couples have in the past engaged in Thailand, India, Nepal and Cambodia. But these countries have now closed their doors to foreign surrogacy, pushing renewed interest in surrogacy in the UK.

Deanne Hart has a condition which meant she was born without a uterus. Nonetheless she has working ovaries allowing her to produce eggs. After four years with her partner they were keen to start a family and joined Surrogacy UK.. Ultimately a UK surrogate expressed interest and they spent three months getting to know each other and their respective families. Putting together an ‘agreement’ (surrogacy contracts are not legal in Britain) with their surrogate, they were lucky to achieve a positive result on the first attempt.

Surrogacy for Brits is also increasing in the US and Canada. The key is selecting reliable providers.

Hannah Bailey lives in the Bath district. She has MRKH, a condition which affects one in five thousand woman. It means she was born without a womb. Hannah was diagnosed aged 17, so had some time to plan her options. Hannah considered a number of options to have a family such as adoption, but decided upon surrogacy. She joined Surrogacy UK and meet a potential surrogate. Surrogacy UK enforces a three month getting-to-know-you period, which proved beneficial as the partnership was not right. Hannah admits she and her partner became impatient with the poor Surrogacy UK ratio of surrogates to intended parents at the time (although this has now been rectified).

They felt that for them, the US was unaffordable, so they looked at Ukraine. It was a country which has laws recognising foreigners as the legal parents via surrogacy. However their UK lawyer advised that obtaining UK citizenship for children born via Ukraine was going to require many months abroad and much red tape. Canada also allows foreigners to engage in surrogacy, but unlike Ukraine, awards Canadian citizenship. It meant Hannah could bring a newborn back to the UK on a Canadian passport within three weeks, then apply for UK documents once home.

Their UK lawyer introduced them to Canadian professionals and within three months they had met a network of Canadians ready to support them and matched with a surrogate. Soon they were shipping their precious embryos from the UK to Canada.

It was a relief Hannah recalls, that they never had to have a conversation with their surrogate about expenses and re-imbursements. Like in the US, a third party managed this for them. Their son Zachary was born in August 2017 and already their surrogate has offered to help with a ‘sibling journey’ if she is medically cleared to do so. Hannah is hoping they won’t have to find a new surrogate. Wait times have increased in Canada and all prospective parents are now advised that matching is so competitive, they need to record a ‘video biography’ to sell themselves to prospective surrogates.

Cathy HuntBack in the UK, lesbian mums are also more commonly offering their reproductive potential to both gay and heterosexual intended parents, often using their own eggs in what is known as traditional surrogacy. Tricia Hunt and her wife Cathy have four children of their own – two boys aged 13 & 6 (Trish carried) & twin girls aged 2 1/2 (Cathy carried) with the help of IVF and a sperm donor. In recent years though, Tricia has carried children for several other couples.

Tricia & Hannah are just two of some fifteen UK surrogates and parents who will share the ins and outs of local and cross-border surrogacy, at Families Through Surrogacy’s fifth annual UK consumer conference on Saturday 10 March, at 155 Bishopsgate, London.

Focused on the information needs of intended parents and surrogates, the events’ popularity lies in its honesty – putting parents and surrogates front and centre, sharing their real-life journeys.

This year’s conference has a focus on best practice in UK & US surrogacy, with leading professionals exploring the complexities of surrogacy arrangements and how best to lay the groundwork for successful journeys. Sessions will address some of the tough questions about trust, logistics, sourcing donors, matching with surrogates and legal parentage. New sessions will explore surrogate-intended parent relationships, outcomes for children, and how surrogacy is operating in Canada, Russia & Kenya. Tickets from £55 including lunch, morning & afternoon tea.

FTS-London-Conference-March-2018-design3 (1)

Go to http://www.familiesthrusurrogacy.com/uk2018/

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